UPDATE 1-French army expects first A400M airlifter by July 14

Thu May 16, 2013 2:18pm EDT

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PARIS, May 16 (Reuters) - The French army hopes to receive its first Airbus A400M military transport aircraft in time for the country's annual Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, a Defence Ministry spokesman said on Thursday.

The aircraft, which is about five years behind the original schedule, is also expected to win certification for military use in time for the biennial Paris Air Show starting on June 17, Pierre Bayle said.

The head of EADS unit Airbus Military, Domingo Urena-Raso, confirmed that this timetable was "absolutely reasonable," adding that he expected a total of four deliveries this year, 10 next year and 21 the following year.

France will be the first of the seven nations behind the 20 billion euro ($25.7 billion) project to take delivery of the European military transport and heavy cargo plane. Germany is due to receive its first A400M at the end of 2014.

France has ordered 50 of the planes, and Germany 53. The other countries involved are Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and Britain.

"Delivery before July 14 would enable a French crew to pilot the French plane above the parade," Bayle said, referring to the traditional Bastille Day military procession.

Airbus Military had said earlier this year it expected to deliver the first of the airlifters to France in the second quarter.

The four turboprop-engine A400M can carry a helicopter, two armoured vehicles or 116 paratroopers. It can land on short, gravel airstrips, making it suitable for transporting troops and equipment to theatres such as Mali or Afghanistan.

The plane has been hit by delays and billions of euros of cost overruns that led to a multinational bailout.

"The A400M got off to a bit of a bumpy start, to say the least, but it's making good progress," Urena-Raso said, adding that there were "no signs" that any of the nations planned to reduce their orders.

He said he hoped the aircraft would fly at the Paris Air Show, adding it had been performing very well in test flights.

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